Thursday, August 27, 2015

Hmong's Golden Eggroll Version 3.0

On May 16, 2015, Hmong's Golden Egg Roll on 901 State St, La Crosse had a grand re-opening. WCG knows the date because of this mostly in Hmong video:  When WCG first moved from the badlands of Southern California to La Crosse around 8 years ago, Hmong's was in the strip mall near the Kwik Trip on La Crosse Avenue, where there's now a military recruiting place. Then it moved to what was for a short time in WCG's experience a branch of Marine Credit Union. In 2014, construction began on The Hive, a sort of privately constructed college student dorm at the 901 State location.

As part of this construction, they demolished the former credit union building (the empty spot on the lower right of the photo) where Hmong's had been. There were indications that Hmong's was going to occupy the first floor with other commercial properties, including what became and what is still a gym.

It took a long time, but eventually, a new and revitalized Hmong's with an expanded space, new aesthetics, uniforms for servers, etc., opened.

Their food seems better than what it used to be. Their specialty remains pho, which WCG has not had, but which looks quite good. Another specialty, of course, is their egg rolls, which are indeed delicious (they are far superior to those of any Chinese restaurant in the region, with a lighter wrapping closer to what one would actually get in East or Southeast Asia). They still have red curry chicken and shrimp, but they added green curry, which is sweeter and WCG likes it better. There are also a few other new dishes, and they have both Thai and Lao papaya salad (both are quite good). 

Much of the Asian food in La Crosse is frankly not exactly authentic. Case in point: the sushi at Festival is not bad, but it is produced by a company that trains non-Japanese sushi chefs to prepare their nationally pervaded food products as "Japanese" sushi; there is in all this something of the mass-produced, as well as–frankly–the for profit cynical duplicity of non-Japanese passing what they do off as "real" Japanese to a public which is none the wiser. The Burmese guy who works for them making sushi at Festival told WCG as much. 

Restaurants Sushi Pirate and Bamboo House are similar, with Chinese staff and cooks providing inferior versions of  "Japanese" or other forms of "Asian" food to midwestern consumers who don't know any better (by the way Bamboo House's horrible "Thai" dishes, in particular are extremely distant from actual Thai food, oh and they are also horrible). WCG has also been no fan of recent stabs at Indian and Thai restaurants in La Crosse, which seem to have been much the same story, with substandard food that wouldn't make the grade in an urban area with competition in the same "ethnic" markets. 

But Hmong's is different. Hmong's smacks of authenticity. Many of the dishes they sell are not traditionally Hmong from time immemorial perhaps, but a product of their real history, stretching from Laos (and perhaps elsewhere even before Laos) to Thailand, and eventually the US, from the 1960s and 1970s to the present. It is, good honest food, authentic culture; it is real. It is also very, very delicious.

To cut to some chasing, above is a plate of takeout, with their absolutely fabulous papaya salad (can't remember if this was Thai or Lao, but both are good, with young papaya, tomatoes, peanuts, cucumber, and a spicy-sweet dressing that can have as many peppers as one wants–WCG gets 3 or 4, which is pretty damned spicy), some Hmong sausage (very good), and a pork egg roll. By the way, the sausage and papaya salad go very well together, with the salad acting as a kind of relish, and both go well with the relative flavor neutrality of rice. The pictured rice is Japanese brown from home, but Hmong's white rice, either regular flaky SE Asian or sticky is just fine. The dipping sauce on the right is a combination of Filipino flavored vinegar, Suka Pinakurat, and sweet soy-based Indonesian Kecap Manis (not from Hmong's but delicious with their egg rolls).

Note that WCG should provide Hmongs' menu, but it is not online. Next time WCG will get their takeout menu and take pics.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

World's Best Sandwich?

In the previous post, I mentioned banh mi a couple times, and I have mentioned it before.

In this article,, the BBC asks, is the banh mi the world's best sandwich? I think the answer is yes....

What you are missing, La Crosse:

Monday, August 3, 2015

New Food Truck Updated

UPDATE: well WCG tried Apothik last night, and I think I got my expectations up tooooo high. First of all, they did not have the banh mi. Well, okay, I understood that their menu is a changing thing and that can be good. Talked to the owner for a while and she recommended the pork tacos. She said the sea food boil was out of supplies, but they used the left over shrimp for gazpacho (Spanish cold tomato soup).

So, eager to try various things, and not having had lunch, WCG ordered both the tacos and the gazpacho. Neither was bad, but neither was exceptional either. Nothing "popped." The tacos were with pulled pork, some kind of aioli (something like a garlic mayo), avocado slices, and flour tortillas, not corn tortillas, as is traditional (Apothik's tortillas were cold and right out of the supermarket package--any taco shop in Southern California does better).  These "tacos" especially could have been seasoned much more aggressively (meaning they could have been more flavorful). Not having food very strongly flavored is just a La Crosse thing, and so far in WCG's experience, Apothic is not an exception. For my money, I would prefer to spend it at Hmong's Golden Egg Roll (subject of an earlier but also future post), where the food is always very tasty.

Apothik is not exactly easy on the wallet (for the amount of food one gets) either, something also typical of La Crosse (don't let anybody ever tell you that things are necessarily less expensive in smaller towns because they are not).  For example, when they have banh mi it is supposed to be $9.50. WCG has been to places (downtown San Francisco, ethnically Vietnamese neighborhoods of San Diego or Seattle) where absolutely delicious versions of the sandwich are half or nearly half the price.
A Chau, on El Cajon  Boulevard, San Diego, where WCG had his first banh mi
As for Mexican food, WCG knows that all across the US' southwest, taco shops (selling much more than tacos) are far less expensive for frankly what is better food.

Lolita's, Telegraph Canyon Road, Chula Vista

Ah, there're a few taco shops in particular in the San Diego area (one in Chula Vista, one in North Park, and one east of La Jolla, yes, La Jolla) where considerably less than the $10.50 Apothik charges for their "tacos" can get one really, really good shrimp burritos, or in the case of North Park, a fish torta (Mexican sandwich). 

(Generally, by the way, I am torn between a love for fusion food that breaks all the rules, and contexts in which a banh mi or tacos or burritos are both somehow authentic and nothing special, which often means lower prices. One is not paying for exoticism.)

The problem with La Crosse seems to be lack of competition. I find this true in for example restaurants (and the lack of competition has a quality-reducing effect, as well as a price-raising one) and the apartment rental market.

I have not given up on Apothik yet, and look forward to trying their banh mi (whatever the price), whenever it is available again.

I just heard about the Apothik Food Truck in La Crosse. Here's some photos from their FB page:

Here's an article about them, and here's their webpage.

I am very excited about this. This kind of food has been something missing in La Crosse for the whole time I have lived here.

These people know their food. Tonkotsu and curry ramen? And banh mi? I especially want to try the banh mi..... I will be there on Wednesday or Thursday. This is their menu: